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Joe Pug and the Duty of Poets

Joe Pug 01

The hair is shaggier than I remember, dry and framing his face, giving him the look of attractive apathy reserved solely for guitarists.

Languid, he sits in a New York living room filled with yellows, light streaming from behind. I sit on a patch of grass on a Dublin street corner, a bobbing head in a Skype window spotted with drizzle, wind streaking water across the face that has taught me lessons about authenticity and assumption several times prior.

In 2007, Joe Pug occupied a corner mic at a dive that no longer exists in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, his jeans with white t-shirt and shorn hair over a baby face not hinting at gravitas. They didn’t hint at him being able to legally drink at the bar. I was present to talk with Chicago Farmer, headliner, and had dropped in with enough time to hear the last two songs of warm-up act Pug. That night, the then-22-year-old revealed a soul so ancient it audibly creaks, and I left with a handful of his lyrics lacerating any clarity I hoped to maintain in those meditative moments before sleep.

Speed ahead to 2010, when in an artists’ colony in New Hampshire news surfaces that a hotshot Chicago singer-songwriter would be gracing the colony’s stage, which was big news because he’d been in Paste magazine and tours Europe and hangs out with Steve Earle. I interviewed him, he who’s contorted face mid-chorus never left my right brain, and he was, verifiably, cutting through the industry chaff at the speed of a Mississippi sharecropper. Yet here he was playing a 50-seat room in a New England town for a cut of the door. In the green room he went about intensely filming a video on his phone using toy dinosaurs and speaking about poetry. He still looked like a boy scout. [cont’d.]

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